Real lives



‘Clean, Healthy, Strong and Safe!’

© UNICEF Philippines/2010/Francia
The children of Aplaya Elementary School engrossed in the performance of the participatory mobile theatre.

How UNICEF is still supporting communities affected by Ondoy six months on.

Laguna province, March 2010 – Loud music is playing in the covered basket ball court in Aplaya Elementary school in Laguna province. Around 200 children and their teachers have gathered around an improvised stage where members of a participatory mobile theatre lead by Perlyn ‘Lakan’ Bunyi are preparing for their performance.

‘Good morning Aplaya Elementary School.’ Lakan greets the children. ‘Good morning sir!’ is their unison reply. ‘Before we start, you need to help me shout out the title of our performance: Linis (clean), Lusog (healthy), Lakas (strong) and Ligtas (safe).’ Lakan says. The children excitingly join in, copying the movements that Lakan teaches them and soon everyone in the village can hear the children shout: ‘Linis! Lusog! Lakas! Ligtas!’

The participatory mobile theatre is part of a UNICEF and Save the Children collaboration to promote good hygiene; sanitation; and breastfeeding amongst communities affected by Tropical Storm Ondoy that struck Manila in 2009. The format is light and has the audience laughing with songs, dances and sketches and so far the troupe has visited 75 communities in the provinces of Laguna, Rizal, Bulacan and Metro Manila.

Involving the community
The performance starts with a dramatisation of the Ondoy emergency. A large piece of cloth resembles the churning water and all the actors run around, scared of ‘the water’ that is rising. Lakan is getting the children to do the sound effects of how the wind got stronger and stronger and their hand movements resemble how the water was rising higher and higher. The children eagerly help Lakan and the other actors recreate the day when Ondoy struck, a day they all remember too well.

‘Getting the children and the community to participate is an important part of the performance. It makes them feel at ease and when they participate it is easier for them to remember the messages.’ Lakan explains. ‘We also have a pre-test before the performance starts which is meant to familiarise the audience with the messages and also for us to measure their level of understanding.’

Lakan during a performance in Barangay San Vincente, Quezon City. UNICEF has funded the entire run of productions, as well as provided technical assistance to the artists. ©UNICEF Philippines/2010/Pirozzi

'Our problems might be your problems'
‘How many of you were evacuated?’ Lakan asks the children. Half of the group raise their hand. ‘So then you know how it is in the evacuation centre.’ He says as the actors cram together around a straw mat on the stage. One of them is snoring and a few are arguing over a blanket. Three of them start to sing in the local language Tagalog:

‘Every family, young and old,
Packed like sardines and its cold.
It is noisy, full of Mosquitos and bugs,
There is no privacy and we can’t all fit on the rug.’

‘There is no water, no food, no electricity, no light,
And with no TV, there’s not a soap -opera in sight,
Its so hard, so hard to be an evacuee,
Relying on others doesn’t make you feel free.’

The song makes the children laugh and some of the teachers are looking at each other and nodding in consent.  The actors receive even more laughter when relief goods are being handed out and seven different recipes of how to cook sardines are being listed.  ‘Pinoys are fond of comedy,’ Lakan explains, ‘so we made this performance light and enjoyable to make people laugh of their own mistakes without being defensive and to make them reflect over their own behaviour. It is also a good way to talk about issues that are not normally talked about in public.’

The actors crammed in the 'evacuation centre.' ©UNICEF Philippines/2010/Pirozzi

Reinforcing messages
After a short ‘medical mission’, which again makes the children roll with laughter, the performance takes the audience through sequences with songs about cleaning up after yourself; what to do when you have a cold or the flu; how breastfeeding exclusively protects your baby from getting sick; what to do if there is another typhoon coming; and about good toilet and hand washing practices.

© UNICEF Philippines/2010/Pirozzi
Waiting for the 'medical mission'.

‘Ah that was nice.’ One of the actors has just pretended to go to the toilet on stage and gets a round of laughter from the children. ‘I think going to the toilet has made me hungry again.’ He strokes his stomach. ‘Good thing I have this nice piece of cake with me.’ He picks up the piece of cake and is about to put it in his mouth when suddenly: ‘STOP!’ Three of the other actors shout. ‘You have just been to the toilet and you haven’t washed your hands!’ They are moving in closer to him. ‘Your hands now carry a lot of germs, so if you don’t wash your hands before eating, the germs will enter your body and make you sick.’ At this point the other actors have surrounded the man and they are clinging on to him, simulating germs inside his body. The children are engrossed in the story and they are laughing of the man being ‘attacked’ by the germs. ‘To avoid being sick, you need to wash you hands every time you have been to the toilet and before eating.’ The man nods and the ‘germs’ disappear off stage.
Several children are then invited to come up to the stage where bowls of water and soap have been prepared. They get a course in proper hand washing and the children enthusiastically scrub their hands, making sure they carefully follow the seven steps of hand washing that Lakan and the other actors show them. Renzo, 12, is one of them. He knows well how it is to be living in cramped conditions, as he was evacuated with his family when Ondoy hit the Philippines and ended up staying in the same basketball court where the performance is taken place today. ‘I liked the performance very much.’ he says. ‘It is funny and I also learned a lot of new things. My favourite part was the hand washing, as it was fun and beautiful.’ 

Lakan teaches the children how to wash their hands. ©UNICEF Philippines/2010/Pirozzi

'Let's all come together'
It is time for the final song and the actors have gathered at the centre of the stage. The children are clapping and the actors are singing about caring for yourself, your family and your community, giving the children a reminder of how to wash their hands; how to clean their environment; and how to boil water before drinking to make sure that everyone stays Clean, Healthy, Strong and Safe. The mothers are reminded that exclusive breastfeeding is the best for babies whether there is an emergency or not.

Lakan then moves on to ask the same questions he asked in the beginning and several more of the children raise their hands to answer. ‘When we ask the questions at the end we know if the audience have understood the messages and gotten rid of certain misconceptions they had.’ Lakan says, ‘So far we have only had positive feedback from the audience and this shows how powerful the mobile theatre can be in getting these messages through to the people.’

For Analyn, 12, the messages has hit home. ‘I liked the part about cleaning the environment.’ She says. ‘It was nice and it is something I can do where I live.’ 
Princess, 8, agrees. ‘I also liked the part about cleaning the environment. It is a nice thing to do.’ She says. ‘I also learned many new things today and this I can teach my family.’ 


Written by Silje Vik Pedersen, Emergency Communication Officer

This story is also available on the UNICEF global site.



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